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Take off for the forgotten Spitfire; NOSTALGIA.

Byline: ANDY RICHARDS

ANEWLY restored Spitfire which was built in Birmingham is set to be the star turn when commemorations are held later this year for 70th anniversary of the Second World War's most famous bombing raid.

It will take to the air again in flypasts to mark the 1943 Dambusters raid.

The gallant fighter plane fully restored by dedicated RAF engineers can now take off again almost 60 years after it last took to the air.

It marks the end of a labour of love for the engineers from the RAF's Battle of Britain Memorial Flight, who have spent the last 11 years renovating the aircraft in their spare time.

The news comes amid continuing claims by ex-servicemen, reported in the Sunday Mercury, that complete Spitfires and parts were buried in Castle Browmich at the end of the war.

Recently, Time Team presenter Tony Robinson told the Mercury that if the rumours were true, and they could be found, it would be "an amazing find of international interest".

Meanwhile, aviation enthusiast David Cundall continues to dig for lost Birmingham-built Spitfires rumoured to be buried in Burma.

The restored plane, Spitfire TE311, has spent much of its career as a mounted display sitting outside an RAF base, and then as a non-flying attraction at village fetes.

It now joins an exclusive club of only 52 airworthy Spitfires in the world.

Half a dozen of these are owned by the Memorial Flight which is planning a series of flypasts in May, seventy years on from the attack by Lancasters of 617 Squadron on a series of German dams.

Squadron Leader Duncan Mason, the new commanding officer of the Memorial Flight, says: "The main focus of our season will be the commemoration of the Dambusters raid.

"I'm hoping TE311 will be part of those flying events as part of our three-ship - Hurricane, Spitfire and Lancaster - display.

I am delighted to report that the aircraft is a dream to fly!

"It is a source of great pride, not only for all of us on the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight who work tirelessly to ensure that our wonderful aircraft continue to take to the sky, but also to the Royal Air Force and, indeed, to the nation.

"It is my very great privilege to be entrusted with the Memorial Flight," he adds.

"My aim will be to take forward the work of my predecessors and continue to enlighten both young and old as to what these wonderful machines represent and the incredible men and women who designed, created, engineered and operated them.

"Our wonderful collection of aircraft, of course, reminds us of our glorious past, but it is also very important that we remember the present.

"We must not forget that the Royal Air Force is still operating across the globe in hostile environments and that its personnel are still putting their lives on the line to protect Britain's interests.

"The Memorial Flight represents them all. It is a living memorial to all those in the RAF who have paid the ultimate sacrifice in the service of their country. Lest we forget."

The Spitfire Mk XVI has recently returned from a test flight involving loopthe-loops, rolls and hangar-rumbling flypasts Built in 1945 at Castle Bromwich, it features a bubble canopy to provide allround vision, clipped wingtips to improve the rate of roll and an American 1,500hpplus Packard V-1650 engine - a licencebuilt Merlin which, according to BBMF engineer Nigel Bunn, was superior to the British original.

Too late for the war, it was used mainly as a pilot trainer before becoming a "gate guardian" at RAF Tangmere, West Sussex, and later being used for static displays over several decades.

Memorial Flight engineering controller Paul Blackah explains: "If you wanted it for your fete, two lorries would transport the wings a fuselage, and it would be resassembled on the village green."

Restoring it has been painstaking work, replacing thousands of corroded rivets and X-raying steel components to check for racks or corrosion.

It was first tested in the air last November in a 35-minute flight in Lincolnshire.

Mr Blackah knew it had passed when the pilot, outoging commanding officer Sqd Ldr Ian Smith performed a victory roll.

"He got out of the Spitfire and gave me such a big huge it nearly killed me," he beams proudly.

CAPTION(S):

SAVIOUR: Engineer Paul Blackah in front of a Lancaster. Right, Squadron Leader Duncan Mason

FLYING HIGH: The restored Spitfire in all its glory.
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Sunday Mercury (Birmingham, England)
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Mar 10, 2013
Words:748
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